Wardak Sitting Out Elections

Residents say in much of province security situation too volatile for ballot to proceed.

Wardak Sitting Out Elections

Residents say in much of province security situation too volatile for ballot to proceed.

Wednesday, 19 August, 2009
Vote? We can’t even talk about the elections here, never mind actually going to them!” said Mohammad Qasim, a resident of Chak district in Wardak province.

Maidan Wardak used to be Kabul’s vacation spot. Its green valleys, rolling hills and clear streams provided ample opportunity for picnics and relaxation, all a stone’s throw from the capital. The border between Kabul province and Wardak is just 40 kilometres from the centre of Kabul.

But now Wardak is off limits even to some of its own residents. Basir, who lives in Kabul but whose family home is in Jighatu district of Wardak, said that he has not been able to visit his parents for the past year.

“The Taleban are everywhere,” he said.

A day before elections, the people of Wardak are wondering how they might be able to participate in the process. In six of the province’s eight districts, say residents, the situation is too volatile for the ballot to proceed. The Taleban, as well as forces belonging to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami faction, have almost total control.

“In Jalrez, 85 per cent of the area is under the Taleban and Hezb-e-Islami,” said Dinar Gul Amin, a local resident. “Two years ago, everything was okay here. Work was being carried out, people had good relations with the government. But after the Americans established military bases in Jalrez district, the security began to deteriorate.”

The elections, he said, are likely to remain a distant dream for most of his fellow residents. The Independent Election Commission, IEC, has had only a sketchy presence, and most people are not registered to vote.

“According to my estimates, 90 per cent of the people of Wardak and 99 per cent of the people of Jalrez are not registered,” he said. “Unless the government negotiates with the Taleban and with Hezb-e-Islami, elections are going to be impossible.”

Zahiruddin Kamal, a resident of Jighatu district, confirms Dinar Gul’s assessment.

“In our district 90 per cent of the areas are not under government control,” he said. “We have not seen any registration teams out here, and nobody knows anything about the elections. We have had no candidates campaigning out here – not even any posters.”

The Taleban have been quite open about their disdain for what they describe as the infidel elections, and have threatened to disrupt the vote.

“We do not have voter registration cards,” said Zahiruddin. “And even those who do cannot vote. The Taleban have warned that if anybody’s finger is stained, they will cut off first the finger and then the head. So I do not think we will have elections in our district.”

In order to receive a ballot, a voter has to dip his or her index finger in a bottle of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting.

Sefatullah, a resident of Sayedabad, said that in his district the Taleban controlled everything.

“Nobody has heard anything about the elections here,” he said.

Nematullah Habib Wardak, who heads the Wardak office of the IEC, chose his words carefully.

“We have done as much as we could,” he said. “We distributed [voter registration] cards in areas where our security was guaranteed and where facilities were made available for us.”

Nematullah said that the IEC had managed to distribute just 40,000 new cards in Wardak. Without a valid census, it is difficult to determine the size of the population, but some estimates say Wardak has more than half a million people.

”We have everything ready,” he said. “All of the materials are in the governor’s office, and will be distributed to all the polling centres by election day so that we have transparent elections.”

Low voter turnout could threaten the credibility of the elections. If the winning candidate does not have a clear mandate, the outcome is likely to be strongly disputed.

Shahedullah Shahed, the spokesman for the provincial governor, said that security in Wardak was more than adequate to ensure a valid election.

“Nobody is able to oppose the government in Wardak,” he said. “We have spread security like a carpet throughout the province. I am sure that people will be able to vote in a secure atmosphere.”

General Abdulliamin Muzafaruddin, Wardak’s police chief, was less optimistic.

“In some districts security is not good,” he said. “The reason for this is the shortage of military personnel.”

He said that foreign Taleban accounted for the main problem in Wardak, but police were dealing with the threat. Several of the foreign Taleban had been arrested, others killed.

In Behsud district, in western Wardak bordering Bamyan, the situation is different. Security is good, candidates have been able to campaign, and most of the eligible voters have registered and received their cards.

“Thank God we have good security in our district,” said Davlat Hossain, a resident of Behsud. “As far as I know, there have been no security incidents here. Almost 95 per cent of those eligible have registered to vote. Candidates have come here to campaign – you can see their posters on the walls.”

Fahim Farhod is an IWPR trainee.
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